On 24th of November 2020, the German aid organization of the Protestant Church Brot für die Welt made a statement about domestic violence against women. In a press release they stated according to the United Nations (UN) women’s organization UN Women the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in domestic violence against women worldwide. This statement is uncheckable.
Brot für die Welt is a German aid organization of the Protestant Church. As a global development agency, the organization is active in more than 90 countries around the globe. In cooperation with local partners, they help poor and marginalized people to improve their living situation on their own. They currently support more than 1,500 projects worldwide focusing on education and health, respect for human rights and equality between men and women.
Since the outbreak of the respiratory disease Covid-19, which was declared a global pandemic by the WHO in March, Brot für die Welt has released six-figure project funds for Covid-19 projects. According to Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, President of Brot für die Welt, the dangers posed by Covid-19 are especially severe for those people who are poorly protected. The last category includes women who experience domestic violence in their own home. Due to lockdowns and curfews imposed as a measure to contain the Covid-19 virus, people are spending most of their time at home. “Even in normal times, gender-based violence against women is alarming. The fact that many men are venting their frustration about the restrictions resulting from the pandemic on their wives reveals, as if under a magnifying glass, violence against women as a much more fundamental pandemic: the low reputation and low status of women in most societies”, says Füllkrug-Weitzel.
UN Women data on domestic violence against women during the Covid-19 pandemic
In the press release, Brot für die Welt refers to information from the United Nations (UN) women’s organization UN Women, according to which domestic violence is increasing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. On the website of UN Women we found various documents with facts and figures on domestic violence against women during the pandemic. In SPOTLIGHT ON GENDER, COVID-19 AND THE SDGS, a joint product of UN Women and the Gender and COVID-19 Working Group, you can read that globally, it is estimated that 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to the survey.
A few countries are mentioned as examples reporting an increase in violence against women. In Lebanon and Malaysia calls to domestic violence helplines doubled in March 2020 compared to March 2019, and increased in France by 32 percent (this is also reported by a second source, the German national daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung). Notably, the ﬁgures reﬂect reporting, not incidence, and it has long been known that domestic violence is grossly underreported. According to the UN Women publication GENDER EQUALITY IN THE WAKE OF COVID-19, in some countries abuse reports and calls to hotlines are decreasing as women are unable to leave home or access help online or via telephone. Accordingly, the figures are likely to reflect only the worst cases. It is questionable to what extent this conclusion is justified, as they assume that the numbers have declined due to the fact that they did not call because the partner is present, but it could also be that simply nothing happened.
The following figure shows some numbers on how the violence against women has increased during the pandemic.
The fact that the UN speaks of “worldwide” is problematic although data may be available for all countries. It is questionable whether the transmitted data is correct (see “domestic violence is grossly underreported”). In this case, sorting by continents would have been more sensible and clearer. In general, we did not have access to all original data from all countries.
Reasons why women and girls become victims
Violence against women and girls during the Covid-19 pandemic increases as security, health and financial stress heighten tensions, which are exacerbated by lockdown measures. The need to isolate themselves may discourage women from leaving violent homes as they fear for their health or that of their children. Due to the increased work in their own home, it is not possible to take refuge in work. At the same time, the men have no change whatsoever. They cannot meet with their friends and may take out their frustration on women. The women cannot meet anyone either and therefore have no reference person to talk to.
For further information, we have contacted the United Nations and Brot für die Welt to confirm the accuracy of the data. Unfortunately, we have not received any feedback so far.
We also contacted pro familia, a Germany-wide association of counselling centers that offers medical, psychological, psychosocial and family law advice on issues such as sexuality, partnership, separation and divorce. The expert from pro familia, Regine Wlassitschau, referred to the website of the European umbrella organization of pro familia and to the article “The Corona crisis as a cause of domestic violence?” by Marius Riebel, author of the association magazine of pro familia. Riebel is a research assistant at the Chair for Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Criminology, Juvenile Criminal Law and Prison Law at the University of Leipzig. According to Riebel, the picture of the situation is ambiguous, as changes occur when looking at case numbers for a period during the Covid-19 restrictions.
Internationally, the reports of increasing numbers prevail. The numbers underline the link between Covid-19 restrictions and the occurrence of domestic violence against women. There are also isolated reports to the contrary. However, Riebel also points out that an important corrective to the restrictive criminal reporting behavior is contact with third parties. This important social control was almost completely eliminated, especially at the beginning of the contact restrictions. The proportion of self-reporters has fallen sharply due to the difficult situation shown and could create a gap in the current case numbers. An increase in the case numbers could become visible with a delay as soon as the contact restrictions are lifted. Then those affected are no longer exposed to the violent partner and social corrective measures can fully take place again.
Brot für die Welt claims that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in domestic violence against women worldwide. Ultimately, due to the lack of feedback, we did not manage to get confirmation from the United Nations that the data was accurate. Even though it is theoretically possible to find data about women violence worldwide, we are unable to validate the numbers from every country. “Worldwide” implies that every country in the world has to be considered. The geography should have been better defined in the claim and limited to specific countries. For this reason, we believe that this claim should be considered uncheckable.
Leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions in the box below. Take note: your response is moderated.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Christina Bensien, Alexandra Loewe, Laura Stich, Alena Wedell and Luisa Wolter, Jade University of Applied Sciences, Wilhelmshaven, Germany